Dr. Horia Vulpe Honored with Young Investigator Award for Research on Global Cancer Care Barriers

May 29, 2020

ASCO Conquer Cancer Foundation has recognized Horia Vulpe, MD, CM, with a Global Oncology Young Investigator Award (YIA) for his work in addressing the international needs of cancer patients. Dr. Vulpe, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, is one of three researchers this year to receive the annual award, announced on May 28.

The Global Oncology YIA will support Dr. Vulpe’s work exploring the healthcare barriers faced by cervical cancer patients in sub-Saharan Africa. The purpose of the study is to examine the reasons why this patient population does not follow through with treatment after receiving a cancer diagnosis and explore solutions on how to provide them with proper cancer care. Dr. Vulpe has been involved in this research since 2014 and is collaborating with colleagues on the project across five countries in Africa. His YIA mentor at Columbia is Dr. Alfred Neugut, member of the Cancer Population Science research program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and professor of medicine and epidemiology.

Dr. Vulpe is honored to receive this award on behalf of his study team.

“As a child in Romania I personally experienced living in a health system with fewer health resources than we have here in the U.S. This is why I have always been drawn to finding ways to reduce the gaps that exist in cancer care both in less developed countries and here at home,” says Dr. Vulpe. “Research is part of the equation, the other part is finding the ways to apply what we know works well.”

Dr. Vulpe and his team are studying factors such as financial barriers, preferences for traditional medical approaches, general fear of oncological treatments, and familial obstacles, as some of the women are the primary caregivers in the household. Additionally, the team has been offering resources available in the patients’ local communities to encourage them to return to the hospital and get the healthcare attention they need.

“In 2014 when I was reviewing paper charts of cervical cancer patients in Accra, Ghana, we observed that more than half the women had only blank pages after their initial consultation. These women never returned to start their treatment and we know little about why, and even less about how to focus our efforts to bring them back,” says Dr. Vulpe. “Every woman with localized cervical cancer who is reintegrated in the medical system has at least a chance at a cure. Our study will have a positive impact not only on an individual women’s life but also on the welfare of her entire family.”

Conquer Cancer, the nonprofit arm of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), first awarded the Global Oncology YIA in 2018. As of 2019, Conquer Cancer has awarded 13 early-career investigators across the globe totaling more than $600,000 in funding support.